NORTHFIELD CENTER -- As spring rains caused flooding issues across Nordonia Hills, area residents are wondering who's going to fix the problem?
Northfield Center residents packed town hall May 1 for a township trustee meeting, after the area saw some of the worst flooding current Trustees say they have ever seen. As the county engineer is preparing a proposal for a Summit County Sewer District to help townships and potentially villages and cities alleviate flooding issues by directing collected funds back into municipality the concerns with flooding are growing.
Trustee Paul Buescher said the township cannot legally go onto residents' property -- even with permission -- to perform storm water drainage work.
Township residents are forced to utilize a ditch petition process which allows them to petition to have the county maintain a ditch.
Summit County Deputy Director of Engineering Services Joe Paradise said the ditch petition process has only been used once since its inception in 1957 as the result of litigation approximately four years ago.
There are currently two outstanding ditch petitions: one asks the county to perform improvements to the Dorwick Ditch in Northfield Center; the second asks the county to do drainage work in Bath Township.
Paradise said the county executive's office provided the engineer's office with $300,000 a year for ditch maintenance until 2009, when the county eliminated the funding and left the engineer's office with limited ability to perform work on ditches.
"By state constitution, we are banned from using our other two resources of revenue, which is license plate fees and motor vehicle gas taxes," Paradise said, adding those funds "can only be used for roadway purposes."
Paradise said the limitations have led Summit County Engineer Alan Brubaker to propose the Summit County Surface Water Management District. For those communities that decide to join the district, it would function as a utility whereby residents would be charged a $4 monthly fee. Commercial properties could see a fee of $4 per 300 square feet of hard surface on their properties.
Paradise said the funds collected would create a revenue stream allowing the county to do some minor maintenance work, the ability to develop studies to determine a course of action and "if necessary" allow the county to borrow funds to fix immediate storm water concerns.
Engineer's spokesperson Heidi Swindell, who was also present, said the $4 dollar fee was determined by studying other surface water utilities in the area.
"They are about $4 a month, though I believe Stow just upped theirs to $5," Swindell said. "The $4 monthly fee should be adequate to begin planning and to address some initial problems in the townships."
Summit County Council District 1 representative Ron Koehler, who was also in attendance, told the News Leader he believes the fee should be higher, and is not confident $4 per month would be sufficient to deal with the flooding problems that have been occurring.
Swindell said the money collected in each township would be used to benefit that township. Money collected in Northfield Center would be used for projects in the township.
Paradise said that even after the district is approved by County Council, there would not be an overnight fix to problems, as it would take more than a year of gathering data and information from participating townships to develop a master plan.
Petition on hold
Swindell said if the township were to join the proposed district, the utility could affect the outstanding ditch petitions. The ditch petitions are currently on hold while the county tries to identify funding to pay for improvements being requested. The proposed stormwater management district could provide that money to fund the design and then even pay some or all of the project construction costs if the township agrees with using the money in such a way.
The Northfield Center ditch petition was filed by Kenwick Drive resident Richard Patz, who petitioned the county for relief from flooding by implementing ditch improvements "to remove obstructions, deepen, widen, construct, drain, where necessary waterways that will eliminate standing or pooled water."
Summit County Council held a June 20, 2016 public hearing on the proposal and followed that up with a July 27, 2016 informational meeting after which the petition went stagnant with no further action from County Council.
Paradise said no further public meetings are required until the detailed design is completed. He added he anticipates if the proposed county sewer district is not approved, the ditch petition would go before the County Council and be turned down due to lack of funds.
Trustee John Romanik said the Mitchell ditch used to be an open ditch, which a pamphlet put out by the Summit County Engineer's Office says "an open ditch has more capability to reduce flooding resulting from heavy rainfall. A pipe system does not have the capability to store excess water."
However, according to Romanik, the ditch was once 15 feet wide by five feet deep, was altered in 1990s to be a 36 inch pipe by the county.
"We have a 180 acres, according to the Dorwick Ditch petition, draining into a 36 inch pipe," Romanik said. "So where do you go from here? It's not the county's responsibility to maintain it yet we are stuck with it ... we just want some answers as to how to alleviate this problem."
Briana Barker: 330-541-9432